Talk about how hurtful it is when someone breaks a promise.

Teaching Children the Value of Keeping Their Word

by Chelsea Fitzgerald

A mom who learns that her little darling didn’t keep his word may fear that the child will turn into a compulsive liar. She might also feel that this behavior reflects badly on her parenting skills. The first several years of a child’s life are perfect opportunities to model virtues like keeping your word and acting compassionately, according to the Ask Dr. Sears website. If the child sees his own parents keeping promises to others, he is likely to model this behavior himself.

1. Discussing Admirable Character Traits

While snuggling with your child over a storybook or during a favorite video, discuss admirable and unacceptable traits exhibited by the characters in the scenarios. If the character is unkind or doesn’t keep her word, ask the child what he would have done differently if faced with the same situation. Observe your son when interacting with his friends and siblings. Be quick to praise him when he shares, shows compassion or other admirable characteristics. He will learn to associate good feelings and a sense of pride with appropriate and commendable behavior.

2. Role-Playing Different Scenarios

Have fun with your child by play-acting different scenarios where he can see the consequences of not keeping your word. Sit down with your son’s favorite Teddy bear and tell the bear you are not going to toss it in the air because you know this scares him. Ask your son how the bear would feel if you suddenly tossed it up high. Your son may say, “He would be scared and cry.” Agree and then remind him that the next time you made a promise to the bear, he probably wouldn’t believe you. Add that the bear may also not want to be around you again because you acted unkindly. Explain that this is why he should always keep his word if possible. Tell him that if there is a chance that he cannot keep his promise, he needs to think about this before giving his word. Provide him examples of language he can use to avoid gray areas when he isn’t certain, such as “I can’t promise that right now,” or “I will try, but I can’t promise.” Young children may think that “yes” or “no” are the only options available when considering pacts. Take advantage of frequent opportunities to role-play with your tot. This teaches him to think about how his actions affect others.

3. Building Trust

During the early years, your child’s mind is quite impressionable. If you model characteristics that are admirable, then he has every reason to do the same. This is because the youngster can’t make independent judgments about what is right or wrong behavior until he is about 6 or 7, according to the Ask Dr. Sears website.

4. Teaching Your Child about Forgiveness

Your child may always intend to keep his word, but no one is perfect. It is important that your child know how to make amends when he messes up. If you promise him something and find that you cannot keep your word, fess up. Don’t try to ignore the slip or hope he doesn’t notice. Apologize to him sincerely and say that you wanted to keep your word very badly, but circumstances prevented it. Ask him to forgive you, as suggested by the Focus on the Family website. Tell him you will try very hard never to break your word again, but like everyone, you are not perfect. If your child senses your sincerity and remorse, the lesson is quite valuable. The best lessons are often more meaningful if they come from real-life scenarios, rather than lectures.

About the Author

Chelsea Fitzgerald covers topics related to family, health, green living and travel. Before her writing career, she worked in the medical field for 21 years. Fitzgerald studied education at the University of Arkansas and University of Memphis.

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